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U of M finalizes exclusive license with French biotech company that is conducting further R

Platform technology has broad applications in genetic research, crop improvement and treatment of human genetic diseases

February 16, 2011

The University of Minnesota has finalized an exclusive, worldwide license agreement with Cellectis, a Paris-headquartered biotechnology company, for technology that allows scientists to modify genes to create specific traits. Cellectis will further develop the technology at a research and development (R&D) facility it opened in St. Paul.

The technology, TAL effector nucleases, was jointly developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University. The technology involves taking a DNA binding protein (TAL) and fusing it to a nuclease that breaks DNA. When the chromosome break is repaired, it allows the incorporation of DNA sequence changes at a precise location in the genome. This platform technology has broad applications in genome engineering including fundamental genetic research, crop improvement and treatment of human genetic diseases.

"In plants, we try to go in and modify genes to have specific traits," said Dan Voytas, professor in the College of Biological Sciences and joint inventor of the technology. "For example, we can make plants resistant to bacterial and fungal pathogens, and drought."

The Cellectis plant sciences R&D facility in St. Paul employs three doctoral-level scientists and two research assistants, led by Voytas, who are working to target plant genome modification. Voytas also serves as chief science officer for Cellectis plant sciences and has taken a temporary leave from the university to further research and development.

"The Cellectis license is a great example of the many benefits that result from commercializing university technology," said Jim Woodman, technology marketing manager at the Office for Technology Commercialization. "This license agreement transfers technology with the potential to improve human health and nutrition from the lab to a world leader in developing genome engineering tools. It also helps create jobs here in Minnesota."

"We're very excited about the potential of this technology, which has applications in plants, animals, and fungi," said Voytas. "It's clearly able to target DNA sequences with considerable ease. It appears we can make targeted modifications much easier than with existing technologies."

Cellectis plant sciences was formally launched in July 2010 as a subsidiary of Cellectis, a genome engineering company that designs and markets endonucleases in the fields of research, biomanufacturing, agricultural biotechnology and therapeutics. Cellectis plant sciences aims to optimize technologies, such as meganucleases or TAL effector nucleases, that could effectively modify plant genetics.

About the Office for Technology Commercialization
The Office for Technology Commercialization oversees all aspects of technology commercialization at the University of Minnesota. Its mission is to translate University of Minnesota research into new products and services that provide growth opportunities for licensees, benefit the public good, improve the quality of life, and generate revenue to support the University's research and education goals.

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